Mindsets of Great Coaches

Most of us have experienced great coaching at some point in our lives, whether in music, sports, art, business, family, or  friendships.  From this, we carry a profound appreciation for the positive impact coaches have on individual growth and team performance.

We’ve also likely experienced good coaches who display the mechanics of coaching, but are missing something.  Good isn’t great.  If you’re like me – a leader who aspires to be a great coach – understanding what’s missing is important.

The mechanics of coaching −skills like observing behavior, asking questions, listening actively, providing effective feedback, offering suggestions – are very important, but far from sufficient, for great coaching.  Great coaching is as much about attitudes and beliefs – or mindsets – as it is about skills.  The mindset a leader brings to a coaching relationship can mean the difference between good and great, and three mindsets in particular show important differentiators – Humility, Potential and Risk.

Humility Mindset.  At its core, the humility mindset says, “It’s about them, not me.”  This mindset asks the leader to examine, “What is the intent of my coaching?”  Is it to prove how much I know, that I’m the smartest one in the room?  Is it to make sure an employee does something exactly the way I would do it?  Or, is my intent truly to support the development of the employee to increase their capabilities and their contributions to the success of our business?  Coaches with the humility mindset put the employee, not themselves, front and center of the coaching relationship.  Employees can tell the difference, and workplace trust research shows this matters.  Employees and leaders alike told us that leaders who listen and care build trust, which in turn drives employee engagement and business performance.

Potential Mindset.  The foundation of the potential mindset is the belief that everyone is capable of growth.  In Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck describes study after study proving the power of a “growth mindset” – the belief that with hard work, focused practice and persistence, results in continuous learning and growth.  This belief in potential doesn’t ignore the fact that we all bring innate talents into the world with us.  It does, however, suggest that even those less innate talent can, with effort and will, develop their skills.  Anyone who watched Larry Bird lead the Celtics to multiple championships saw this phenomenon in action.  Coaches with a potential mindset envision learning journeys – they give people stretch assignments, promote people before they’re 100% ready, and allow people to experiment – all the while coaching as the employee progresses along the journey.

Risk Mindset.  All growth requires some risk.  Humans learn from both success and failure, some of the most powerful lessons from the latter.  Think about the important “lessons learned” in your career.  How many of them came from failures?  The truth is we’re all hard-wired to learn through trial and error.  Babies learn to walk through multiple rounds of step and fall until they master it.  The best coaches tap into this aspect of human nature and more than just tolerate risk of failure, they embrace it.  And, they see their role as helping to mitigate that risk.  They examine the risk they’re taking when an employee is in stretch-mode, and calibrate the attention and support they provide accordingly.  The best coaches are intentional about taking calculated risks based on the potential impact of failure on both the employee and the business.

Great coaches believe in the power of humility, potential and risk, and people tell.  Together, these mindsets are that extra something that makes great coaches different.  Leaders with these mindsets are constantly coaching, but most of the time you don’t even know you’re being coached.  You just know you’re learning and growing, and that feels great.